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New Poll Shows Biden With Healthy Lead In PA — But Voters Themselves Think Race Is A Toss-Up

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Joe Biden kicked off his campiagn in Pittsburgh last spring

A new poll of Pennsylvania voters shows former Vice President Joe Biden with a strong lead over President Donald Trump — but the voters themselves may not quite believe it.

The poll, by New Jersey’s Monmouth University Polling Institute, shows Biden leading Trump by 53 to 40 percent among registered voters. The presumptive Democratic nominee is especially strong — holding a combined 19-point lead — among voters in Erie and nine other swing counties where the results were tightest in 2016. Hillary Clinton won those counties by a combined total of only 1 percent.

Not all those registered voters will actually vote, and voter enthusiasm was a huge factor in Clinton's loss here in 2016. But Biden also led — albeit by lesser margins ranging between 7 and 10 percentage points — when Monmouth gauged the preferences of likely voters in both a low- and high-turnout scenarios.

Biden posts a majority of over 50 percent in both scenarios, which Patrick Murray, who heads the Monmouth University Polling Institute, called “good news” for Democrats in a polling release statement.

“Even taking into account any polling error from four years ago, Biden is clearly doing well in swing areas,” said Murray. While Biden is helped by his roots in the Scranton area, he surmised, “there seems to be an overall erosion of support for Trump compared to 2016.”

Still, those polling errors loom large: Hillary Clinton was broadly expected to win the state in 2016, though she narrowly lost it. Those polled are evenly divided on who they expect to win the state. Most registered voters — 54 percent — say they were surprised by Trump’s win here in 2016, and 57 percent say they suspect there are “secret voters” who will support Trump without telling anyone. Less than half that many think there are such hidden votes for Biden.

Democrats support Biden by a 93-to-1 margin, while Republicans are somewhat softer on Trump: 84 percent of GOP voters say they back the president, versus 12 percent opposed.

Trump has not been helped by his coronavirus response: Just 42 percent of Pennsylvanians say they approve of his handling of the issue. By contrast, two-thirds of registered voters said they approve of how Governor Tom Wolf has addressed the crisis. Overall, Trump gets a favorable reaction from 42 percent of voters, while 54 percent say they view him unfavorably. Views on Biden, meanwhile, are evenly mixed.

Anxious Republicans can take comfort that even if Trump fails to carry the state, the downballot impact should be modest. Asked about who they favor for Congress, 49 percent of registered voters say they back the Democrat in their district, versus 45 percent who suppor Republicans. Depending on turnout, however, the margin shrinks to a statistical tie. Results vary considerably by district, but Murray suggests Democrats won’t see the kind of big gains they got in 2018, when newly drawn districts help them regain equal footing with Republicans after making up a minority of the state’s Congressional delegation.

Murray said the “overall outlook may be status quo,” and that in swing districts, “Vulnerable Republicans may have slightly more breathing room than two years ago."

Monmouth polled 401 voters by telephone from July 9 to 13, and the survey has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.